So, what can you do to keep your collaborative relationships from going bad, and how can you recoup a relationship that has already taken a turn for the worse?
- Communicate. Yeah, I know. Everybody talks about communication like it is the panacea for whatever ails you. However, when it comes to relationships, it really is important. The problem is that when relationships are strained, talking it out is exactly what we don't want to do. There is an agency I volunteer with that I am having some trouble with right now. The last thing I want to do is pick up the phone and talk to the person who is annoying me, but my relationship with that organization depends on it. Ask yourself, how valuable is the relationship to me? If it's a valuable relationship, suck it up. Start talking.
- Focus on the positive. Even when people don't agree on everything, it's likely that they do agree on some fundamental principles. Focus on those. Release your emotional grip on the details that don't really matter and focus on common sense of purpose.
- Express your appreciation. Everybody wants and needs to know that they are valued and appreciated. It may be hard to express your appreciation when things are strained, but that is when it is needed most. Send a heartfelt card or a handwritten note expressing your gratitude for the collaboration or something special the individual involved has done to make your work easier.
- Keep the problem to yourself. You may be tempted to tell the story about what went wrong to others. Don't. No good can come from that, and you could cause permanent damage to the collaborative relationship if you do.
- Don't over-analyze the problem. Sometimes it's easier to get over a bump in the road by just driving over it. If you stop, get out and start analyzing why there is a bump in the road, and detailing all of the possible ways around it, you may end up stuck there at that bump forever. In the same way, sometimes the best and most productive and respectful way around a problem with a collaborative partner is to acknowledge that there has been an issue and keep working together anyway. Not all problems in relationships need to be defined and fully resolved before you move forward. Agreeing to disagree and moving on can be a very good thing.
Don't be discouraged when a wonderful collaborative relationship hits a bumpy spot. Remember that it's normal for highly committed individuals to disagree sometimes. Not all people communicate perfectly all the time. A temporary disagreement doesn't have to turn into a permanent rift.